Thu, Jun 29, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Tree DNA database aims to combat illegal logging

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter

The Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau and the Council of Agriculture’s Forestry Bureau on Tuesday signed an agreement to establish a DNA database of protected trees in mountainous areas to crack down on illegal logging activities.

“This agreement is part of the Investigation Bureau’s crime fighting program for National Land Conservation, which includes protecting preserved forests, cracking down on illegal mining and excavation, and other criminal activities that damage the environment,” Investigation Bureau Director-General Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥) said.

The Investigation Bureau and the Forestry Bureau are to establish a DNA database of Taiwan cypress and Taiwan cedar that “will enable us to make fast identification of suspected protected timber and document materials believed to have been illegally logged for prosecutors,” Tsai said.

“More than 2,000 cases of illegal logging in mountain areas have been investigated by law enforcement agencies in the past five years. More than 5,900m3 of timber from protected trees worth about NT$1.78 billion (US$58.65 million) has been illegally harvested in that time,” Forestry Bureau Director Lin Hua-ching (林華慶) said.

Illegal logging of preserved forests has caused extensive damage to the environment, including alpine ecology, water and soil conservation, and has caused the destruction of tourism resources and the function of forests in mitigating the effects of climate change, Lin said.

As part of the collaboration teams from the Forestry Bureau are to collect tree samples from mountain areas, focusing on Taiwan cypress and Taiwan cedar, which are protected under the Forestry Act (森林法), officials said.

“The tree samples would be analyzed using new molecular techniques to pinpoint their characteristic genetic markers and catalogued in a DNA database. The database would identify the DNA markers which show which trees come from a particular area. It would enable authorities to determine the origin of suspected illegally logged timber and boost conviction rates,” Tsai said.

“Prosecution was successful in about 1,500 of more than 2,000 illegal logging cases in the past five years, with about 3,400 people convicted,” Minister of Justice Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) said.

“However, there were a few hundred cases in which the charges were dropped and most of these were due to problems identifying the timber,” he said.

“When I was younger I wanted to work protecting the mountain forests, but found out rangers have a tough job, that they have to patrol a large area and their lives are threatened by illegal logging operators, so I gave up on that idea,” Chiu said of his aspiration to become a forest ranger.

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